Sep 19, 2022 • Podcast

How do I lead a customer through uncertainty?

Paul outlines three ideas on how you can turn the customer’s uncertainty into opportunity.

Show Notes

Your customers don’t need to be coddled; they need to be challenged.

Lead with your expertise to guide your customers through uncertain times.

Through uncertainty, decision makers want stable partners and predictable solutions.

Does your solution help the buyer reach their ultimate vision? Clear that fog of uncertainty and detail a better vision for the future.

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How do I lead a customer through uncertainty?

(Transcribed from podcast)

So, recently on a coaching call with one of my clients, it was kind of interesting. It’s a company that’s selling large deals, significant—usually six figure/seven figure deals. They had a buyer who was interested in moving forward. They were ready to pull the trigger to get going. And then all of a sudden, they said, “You know what? I think we’re going to pump the brakes a little bit. We need to wait and see how things shake out with the economy and then we’ll move forward,” and they wanted to push back the decision a couple of quarters into next year. So that’s what we’re going to talk about on today’s show is, what do we do when the customer says, “Hey, let’s pump the brakes,” “Let’s slow things down,” “Let’s pause,” “Let’s punt,” whatever analogy you want to use. Either way, they want to wait, and they don’t feel like making the decision today to move forward.

Before we get into answering that question, in Selling Through Tough Times, this is a common response. We talk about this, that buyers will hit that collective pause button. And a lot of the reason is because of fear. Well, in the book, we detail how to shift that buyer’s mindset—how to focus their attention beyond what they’re fearful of and more towards an outcome. So, make sure you pick up your copy of Selling Through Tough Times. It’s available wherever you get your books.

All right. So let’s get back to it. The customer wants to pump the brakes. Again, it’s a natural response to tough times. When buyers experience uncertainty, they want to conserve cash; they want to reduce spending. Think about this. When the pandemic hit, I know many of you were maybe uncertain about your future or about your company or about your sales efforts, so you probably tightened the belt at home a little bit, at least initially, to see how things would shake out. So, it’s a natural response to tough times, so we should be aware of it. Don’t be too frustrated by it because this uncertainty and fear is really an opportunity. Uncertainty creates an opportunity to lead your buyer through that uncertainty and shift their mindset. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Now, the challenge is that most sellers are really unaware on how to handle buyer uncertainty. Some sellers are thinking, “You know what? I’ll just wait it out until they’re ready to buy.” “I’ll just continue to follow up with them,” or, “You know what? I’m just going to reassure them and I’m going to be here. I’m going to support them.” The reality is, your customers don’t need to be coddled. What they need to be is challenged. They need to be challenged, but many sellers are not comfortable challenging the buyer. It’s either because they lack the belief in their solution, or they don’t want to be a pest; they don’t want to be an annoyance. And so many times salespeople are not comfortable challenging their buyers and the mindset. Here is the reality. Right now your customers have money to spend, they have the motivation to buy, but all of this is overshadowed by the uncertainty. Strong leadership will stabilize this uncertainty and it will help you push that deal through. So here on today’s episode, I’m going to give you three ideas to lead your buyers through uncertainty.

You, as a salesperson, you are a leader in many senses. I’ve talked to my buddy Mark Hunter about this before, and he’ll say sales is leadership and leadership is sales, and I agree with him that you, as the salesperson, you have an opportunity to be a leader for your customers. So, tip number one, lead with your expertise. Think about this: expertise is critical. During uncertain times, like we’re facing right now, that’s going to lengthen the gap between what is known and unknown. And that gap, that’s a pitfall of decision making. That’s where deals go to die is in that gap.

What we need to do is to close that gap with our expertise. When you can demonstrate that you are the expert, and that you have the knowledge, and that you can be a true consultant and help that buyer make the best possible decision to help them realize those outcomes, you are going to win that deal. So utilize your expertise to close that knowledge gap. Closing that gap creates a higher degree of certainty. So you can share your knowledge about the industry, share a positive outlook, share some ideas on how to help the buyer thrive through this uncertain time. Just use your expertise to help guide them, to reassure them. And in doing that, you’re going to move the deal closer.

Also, lead with stability. This is your second tip. Through uncertainty, decision makers want stable partners and predictable solutions. Make sure you are promoting the stability of your organization. Emphasize your organization’s longevity, how solid it is—financially as well. Share your personal stories of stability.

I remember one seller that I trained, he had over 40 years of experience in the industry, both on the sales side and also the operations side. So he had 40 years of experience on both sides of the table. And here’s how he explained it to the buyer. He said, “In our combined 140 years of experience, meaning my 40 years and then also my company’s 100 years, there hasn’t been much we haven’t seen over that timeframe. And we’ve been able to move through it all.”

What he’s doing there, is he’s reminding that buyer of all the experience—the fact that his company has not only made it through 13 recessions, but a Great Depression as well. That speaks to stability; that speaks to safety. It’s what that buyer needs. So, lead with that stability.

Now the third tip: you’ve got to lead with a better vision for the future. We know this. In any organization, strong leaders create a solid vision, and they remain committed to that vision, especially when times are tough. Now, sometimes the fog of uncertainty will momentarily obscure their view to that future. Your role is to clear the fog and remind them of their goals. So when you’re meeting with these high-level decision makers, do some research, figure out where they want to go in the future, and then lead them there. Lead them past the uncertainty of today and answer this question: “Does your solution help the buyer reach their ultimate vision?” If the answer is yes, then detail how you will make that happen.

Oftentimes, the decision makers that you’re interacting with, they need to get out of the present moment. They need to be transported into a better future, especially in volatile times. So if they need it, put ’em there—put ’em in that better future state. That’s the key: lead with a better vision past the uncertainty of today. Just remind that leader of where they want to be. Remind that customer of where they want to be 3-4-5 years from now. And by transporting them there, you can get them out of the pain of the present.

So, I know right now, just given this level of uncertainty, many sellers are wishing for more predictable times, but that is a mistake. These uncertain times create leadership opportunities for you. So make sure you’re leading with your expertise, lead with stability, and then finally, lead that customer to a better vision, into the future. Remind the buyer that if they are unhappy with the uncertainty of the future, they can use that as a catalyst to create a better future.

Make it a big day.

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